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A Lesson in Heart: Why the Relative Age Effect is Wrong

Contrary to what some writers and sports analyst think being the smallest and youngest does not guarantee failure in a persons athletic career. Lessons are learned by team sports which go far beyond physicality, follow a child through their entire life and set them up for success.

My son is super active and in constant motion. We figured sports would help put that energy to use. We really didn’t give that much thought to the myriad of lessons learned through team sports. As we approach the end of the season I am reflecting on the amazing change and growth that team sports has brought in my child.

My son actually began with T-Ball and had an instant love for the sport. He took to it easy and made friends quickly. However, he is literally the youngest…I mean the absolute youngest player in the entire league. Due to when the division cut offs fall and when his birthday is. Much like school, in sports he is the youngest one out there.

Age is nothing but a number

If you have ready Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers, ” then you might have thought, much like myself, that having the youngest smallest child in sports would be to set him up for failure in life.  According to NY Magazine, one of Mr. Gladwell’s points is “…an initial advantage attributable to age gets turned into a more profound advantage over time.” This theory has become known as the Relative Age Effect and in my view is  bull.

Me and my husband initially considered theory for a long time and actually thought about holding my son back in school to ensure he was bigger, stronger and more mature when he began. However, intellectually he was ready and decided we would be doing his a disservice by holding him back.

When we signed him up for T-Ball, this idea came back to haunt me. Would he be the smallest? What if he is picked on? What if he struggle? How it effect his emotionally and scar him for life? Ok I probably was a bit over dramatic. But aside from the scarring him for life part all of that has happened and it is not a bad thing.

Season one and two

My son was the smallest. In being smaller and younger he did not have the motor coordination, at first, that the other players did. I watched in agony as he would miss ball after ball. However, my agony was not his. He was having a blast. He loved his coaches and they loved him as well. My son was learning what it was like to be part of a team and how to support your teammates.

More importantly he was learning resiliency. How to keep trying even if you might not get the results you want the first time. Each practice he tried his best. Never gave up and enjoyed every minute. By the end of the first year he was actually hitting the ball!

Season three

The second year brought new challenges. The size different between my son and the other kids were much more apparent. Likewise the skill level difference between him and other kids varied greatly. He fell somewhere in the middle, with older, bigger kids having more skill and motor control then he had. To my surprise there were older kids that were similar in stature to him struggled throughout the season.

Also, due to the cut off he was no longer in T-Ball. He was moved up (too soon in my opinion) to Coach Pitch. My son was scared he wouldn’t be able to do it and almost choose not the play. However, after meeting the coaches and other kids he wanted to try.

Sometimes he went game after game without a hit. Without a play or so much as touching the ball. There were a few times I turned to mush as he cried that he wanted to give up. The difference is he didn’t. He asked me and his Dad to practice with him more. (which we did.) He started to pay better attention during practice. With hands on his knees he was “baseball ready,” instead of throwing his mitt around the outfield.

While it was heartbreaking to see him leave the batter’s box dejected and sad, there was a lesson in this as well. It was a lesson about playing with Heart. Heart, Will, Determination, Fortitude, Resilience, call it what you will. It is what winning teams are made from.

You can see it time and time again when the underdog, underestimated teams blowing away their opponents. The 1980 US Hockey team, the 2004 Red Sox, and most recently the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.  In most cases it is not purely, skill, strength or physical prowess that does the job. It is Heart and that is what my son was learning.

His abilities to field, hit and pay attention long enough to get through an inning were finally starting to come on line. By the end of the season he was hitting pretty regularly and had a good grasp of the game. Plus, he understood what it felt like to overcome a struggle.

Season Four

This past season was yet another lesson. Most of his teammate were almost a full 2 years older then he is. Many were now in travel ball league. This meant they had skills far beyond my son. I mean these kids were turning double plays! He had just learned how to hit. However, what surprised me was the social struggle. It seemed like none of the kids knew where they fit with each other. The age and skills varied so greatly. The older kids were not very nice. With the idea they were better players they acted like jerks to the younger kids.

My son, who pretty much gets along with everyone,  had a really hard time with this. It was the first time he was encountering bigger kids who were being bullies. He doesn’t really find them in school because of the anti-bullying efforts, but here on the ball field they still exist. I had a big issue with this and was ready to pull him out of the league.

However my husband stopped me. He reminded me that he NEEDS to learn how to deal with them. IF he doesn’t learn these lessons now he will have a harder time in life when he encounters bullies in the real world.  Boy was it tough to watch these kids but I knew he was right. he had to learn to stick up for himself. If things got bad I could step in. But as painfully hard as it was I had to let him fight his own battle. Uggg!

He was right, my son did learn how to stand up for himself. The effort in overcoming his fear also brought with it a new confidence in his abilities. I watched in amazement as he no only became a solid hitter he actually began to hit it into the outfield. Along with this his fielding also improved. With the encouragement and knowledge of incredible coaches he has grown into a strong player and a respected teammate.

Lessons for life

Being part of a team sport has brought along its challenges but the lessons learned and triumphs have been so worth it. These lessons learned through sports are what will make him a success, not the month he was born and when his birthday falls.  So Mr. Gladwell you are dead wrong that the smaller, younger kids are set up to fail due to age disadvantages that follow them through life.

You didn’t take into account all of the people like coaches, players, friends and family who help to mold them. Mr. Gladwell you also did not consider the many athlete’s who were not the ideal physical specimen, who might not have natural talent but still achieve greatness through hard work, will and determination.

Yes, my son is still the youngest and his is still one of the smallest but like many underestimated people he has Heart and that is what you need to win in the game of life.




5 Weeks of Scary: Week 4 Take on a Problem

tackle a problemWelcome to Week Five

Before we close out this challenge with our final task let’s review last week. Week 4’s task was to Take on a problem. Tackle an issue or feeling you have been avoiding for a while. Face it head on and break through the fear. As I said last week, I thought this would be a tough one and I was right.

Initially when I examined what task I wanted to take on I didn’t readily recognize a cause that required attention. As a matter of fact, it seems I have buried many of these feelings so deep it was hard uncovering them. Deep down there lies several fears that I have let linger and have never fully addressed. When you start to peel back the layers of covering over the hurt, weird things happen.

You want to push them away again. Like the pile of laundry hidden in the back of your closet. You know it is there you can see it briefly if you open the door a bit. But if you never actually look at it you can pretend its not there or push it of to deal with another day.

The problem I pushed away

The task I have decided to face this week was one I put in the way back of my closet after my father passed away. Every now and then I venture into that pile of memories looking for something but quickly stash it back away before it spills out and I have to deal with it. The task is to forgive my father. There I said it… and it was a lot harder to write then I thought it would be.

I mentioned my issues with my father in this post. Here I addressed my own co-dependency issues that arose from his alcohol abuse. My father wasn’t a bad man. No really he wasn’t, but he was damaged and I see now how he could have benefited from anti depressive medication.

Anyhow, back to the task at hand. I have been carrying around a bag of hurt, self-doubt, low self worth, fear and lack of confidence ever since I was a little girl. Growing up in a house of narcissism and co-dependency these feelings have effected every aspect of my life. Having never felt like enough, never feeling like I mattered, and always feeling less then those around me.

The one question

Over the years I have navigated these feelings or pushed them away enough to function. When I thought about this task I realized all of my hurt is wrapped around one question that I could never fathom.

Why did my Dad pick alcohol over me? Why was I not important enough?

I remember hearing stories of other people’s parents who would move heaven and earth for their children. Having children of my own I know I would do this for them. So why then wouldn’t my Dad give up alcohol for me? Why was having those extra years of life with me not worth it to him? Why could he not stop after seeing all the pain and hurt his addiction caused?

Finding forgiveness

It is because he was an addict. Not being addict I know I can never truly understand the physical, emotional or chemical dependency that comes along with addiction. But what I do know is I must let go of this question. I must know that my Dad loved me but he was not like me. He was weak, depressed and lacked the will to be anymore then what he was.

He loved me the best way he could, but he was flawed and broken. I must forgive him for his weakness. It was not my doing or

Winnie the pooh

Image found on Pinterest

something I could have fixed. More importantly, it was not a reflection on his love for me and does not mean others will love me less.

I know moving forward this will be a struggle but overtime I plan to unravel the layers I have built up. Hopefully, in facing this fear I will be able to released this hurt and heal myself.

There we have it friends. We have made it to the final Week of the Challenge. Week 5…

Week 5: Take your power back

We have done a lot of work over this month. We have faced fears physical, mental and emotional. In the final week we reflect on all that we have learned about ourselves during this challenge. What fears have we overcome? Are any still plaguing you? Has your view of fear changed?

My hope is that you feel empowered and emboldened by this process. Maybe like me, you have gotten to know yourself a little better. Maybe you realize you are so much more than you appear to be. Each and every one of us is capable of amazing things if we believe we can. If we ignore our self-doubt, if we overcome our overwhelm, move past our guilt and run towards our fears.

Thank you so much for taking this journey with me over the past month. I hope it was transformative, insightful and helpful. Please share your stories in the comments about what you have learned from this process.

Introducting the Success in Parenting Series

Hello! My name is Ann Marie Flanagan.

Here is a little about me. I am a wife of 17 years and a mother of three happy and healthy children. I met my husband on a blind date. During my second year of teaching I was set-up on a date with a parent of a kindergartener at the school I was working in. That blind date led to marriage and my little family. My children are Blake, McKenzie, and Gavin. Ever since I was young, I had always wanted to become a teacher! I am thrilled to have the privilege of speaking to you about my passion: teaching.

During high school, I began tutoring my neighbor’s sons. While I was working with them they were both tested and labeled Learning Disabled. This intrigued me and I began to research and decided I wanted to focus on working with this population.

I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Learning Disabilities from the University of North Florida. From there I began my teaching career in an elementary school working with special education students in the 4th and 5th grades. Right away I knew this was my calling and couldn’t wait to learn more.

Image source unknown

Image source unknown

Several years later I participated in a cohort where I earned my Master’s Degree in Special Education from the University of Central Florida as well as my National Board Certification! I continued working in elementary education since then, only taking one year off.

This is my 21st year of teaching and I am more passionate about my students than ever before.

I educate and advocate for my students, collaborate with parents, and assist other teachers in their pursuit of becoming the best they can be for their students.

For the past 7 years I have worked in Pre-K and found my niche. At first I thought this was going to be the easiest of jobs. Boy was I mistaken! I have learned a whole new skill-set and I am in love with my career.

These 3 & 4 year olds are challenging, but they are also little sponges. My favorite areas to teach these young minds is in their social/emotional and communication skills. This is a critical age for my students. Early intervention is the key. Most of their labels include: Developmentally Delayed, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and Language Impaired.

My students inspired me to develop an online workshop called Tackling Tantrums. More often than not parents tell me about tantrums that are occurring at home and I have key strategies and tips to share. This workshop is not just for parents of special education students. It is for all parents who struggle with taming these outbursts.

In addition, I have developed a Facebook group to share our children’s successes and ask for assistance with challenges. This group is a safe place to discuss strategies and tips for young children all the way through young adults who may be ready to leave for college.

Would you like to join us?

Here is the link: SuccessinParenting. You can find information about the Tackling Tantrums Workshop in the group or you can email me at  I also have a free series within the group about how to set your children up for a successful start to the new school year. This series is filled with quick and easy tips that you can begin to implement today.

I look forward to the next opportunity to share with you every other Monday. In future posts I will share my expertise and knowledge about managing your child’s strong emotions, identifying red flags for learning difficulties, and how to prepare for a parent conference and/or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting. If you have suggestions on topics just send me an email.


Ann Marie Flanagan

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